Lesson 4: Chronic Stress and Nutrition


Gain basic understanding Chronic Stress and Nutrition


  • Read the following material
  • Activity

What is Chronic Stress?
Chronic stress occurs when we believe there is a constant threat and causes us to activate a physiological response.  When this occurs our body will maintain high levels of cortisol to meet the daily challenges we believe are threatening.  Cortisol is good for short periods of threatening situations but can have physical destructive effects on our bodies.

What happens with chronic stress?

Cortisol can gradually tear our body down.  At high sustained levels it can:

  • destroy healthy muscle and bone
  • slow down healing and normal cell regeneration
  • co-opt biochemicals needed to make other vital hormones
  • impair digestion, metabolism and mental function
  • interfere with healthy endocrine function; and
  • weaken your immune system.
  • Adrenal fatigue may be a factor in many conditions, including fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, and more. It can also be associated with a host of unpleasant signs and symptoms, from acne to hair loss.

The foods we eat or don’t eat affect how well our bodies will rebuild or maintain a healthy nervous and digestive system.  In order to ensure we are able to meet the daily demands our diet must consist of nutrient rich foods because in most cases when we are dealing with stress we tend to eat foods of comfort; foods consisting of high fats and carbohydrates increase our weight with fats and don’t help with building muscle, so when we gain weight we find ourselves needing to lose that weight which can be another negative effect of chronic stress.


We’ve heard someone say, “I’m going on a diet.”  And most times we associate the word diet with losing weight, but is more about changing the type of foods and amounts we eat.

Ø    Diet is actually what a person eats or drinks throughout the day.

Our ancestors didn’t use a food pyramid because their diet consisted of all the food gifts of the earth, which were naturally grown, fresh, and healthy.  They followed the seasons and learned various methods of preserving their foods to sustain them through cold harsh times of the winter season.  They understood the seasonal changes and changed their behaviors with those seasons.

The traditional diets of our tribal cultures have changed; we have become accustomed to a “Fast food diet.”  The fast food diets consist of quick meals at restaurants, take-out and phone order foods, canned soups, pre packaged meals and frozen dinners.  These convenient meals may allow us extra time but provide little nutrient value and are filled with sodium, chemical preservatives and artificial coloring.

Our tribal people have experienced rapid and stressful changes in our cultures that have affected our health and wellness.

Culture is the learned behavioral patterns, which include knowledge, beliefs, art, law, morals and customs that identified us as a member of our particular tribal society.

These changes in diet are demonstrated in our obesity and diabetes rates; Among the American Indian/Alaska Native populations at least fifty percent (50%) of the children are overweight or obese.  Statistics of American Indian/Alaska Native adults who received care from Indian Health Services show that approximately 14.9% of those 20 years and older had diabetes.

This shift from following a traditional diet, to a western diet, and now the fast food diet along with a less active lifestyle has contributed to increased rates of obesity and diabetes.  When our ancestors and elders were practicing traditional lifestyles, they would recognize signs of a seasonal change and they would begin preparations to meet those changes.

Stories told by our elders teach us lessons and for many tribes a favorite character is “Coyote” also known as the “Trickster.”  Sometimes coyote tricks people into doing things and sometimes because he thinks he’s smarter than everyone he gets himself in situations, but he always manages to find a solution, and learn, or teach a lesson.

Native people share cultural traditions and learning through stories, so here are a few elders sharing their knowledge and experience with diabetes.

Gerald Bouchard, Cowlitz shares his thoughts on diabetes and being overweight.

I wasn’t diagnosed with diabetes until about 4 years after I stopped drinking. So I don’t know what effect alcohol had on diabetes. I got onset diabetes which usually means that people are overweight. There are not too many people that are not overweight that develop diabetes during their adulthood. In fact in all the articles I am reading, they are starting to find diabetes in kids that are overweight and they call it adult onset because they are overweight.

Gerald on control and diabetes; It is a struggle. I wish I could say that I control the diabetes, but I don’t. The diabetes controls me. The diabetes dictates when I am going to eat, how often I am going to eat. It dictates how much medicine I am going to take for it. It dictates just about every aspect of my life.

Leon Thom, Grand Ronde shares his experience with diabetes

I’m here to talk about diabetes. I have been retired from my employment for sixteen years and it seems like that’s when everything fell in for me. I developed Diabetes and asthma and it is kind of hard for me to understand that, but the thing is I accepted it. I didn’t have any desire to give up. More of an incentive to go and battle it. And it takes discipline, is I think I want to use the word. Once you learn how to understand discipline and practice it, that is the most important battle. From then on, you have to watch your food and calories. Soda water, I do not approve of soda water for any rhyme or reason. I think the creator put water her to use, and that is one of the essential ingredients of your everyday life.


  • Need piece of paper and pencil.
  • After reading story
  • Write down what the story is telling us
  • Have discussion in small group and apply it to health and diabetes

Coyote and Another One

Two Coyotes were crossing a farmer’s field. Both Coyotes were strangers to each other for they had never met. Just as they were about to introduce themselves they heard the farmer yell, “There’s a Coyote in the field!” The first Coyote turned to the other and told him to run! They both started to run for the trees when they heard the farmer yell, “And there goes another one!” Finally both Coyotes made it to the cover of the trees and they started to introduce themselves. “I never saw you before, I am Wanderer, I am a Coyote like you.” The other Coyote looked at him oddly and said, “I am Sleek, but I am not a Coyote like you.”

“Yes you are,” said Wanderer.  “Oh no, I am not,” replied Sleek.

“Look my friend, you are confused. You have ears like mine, you have a tail like mine, our fur is the same, our snouts are the same, everything is the same, you are just like me and we are both Coyotes,” Wanderer tried to explain.

“Listen let’s run across the field again and you will see,” challenged Sleek. So off they ran. First went Wanderer and again the Farmer yelled, “There goes that darn Coyote.” Then Sleek took afoot and the Farmer yelled, “And there goes another one… again!”

When the two Coyotes reached the other side of the field they ducked into the woods. Wanderer turned to sleek and said, “There! Didn’t you hear the Farmer? He called us both Coyotes.” Sleek look disappointed with his new confused friend and said, “Yes I heard the Farmer. He called you a Coyote, but I am an `Another One’.”


CDD Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
2003 National Diabetes Fact Sheet

Indigenous People’s Literature:  Coyote and the Another One As told by Charles Phillip White;

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